So, you’ve got a lot invested in the online courses you’re offering … not only the money you’ve put into them but plenty of effort and enthusiasm. You had high hopes and great expectations, but lately … maybe not so much. You’re simply not seeing the results you anticipated.
Sure, maybe sales to new customers are okay, but first-timers don’t seem to be coming back for more. Many of them aren’t even completing the course they bought.
You’re probably asking yourself, “What’s wrong?” Perhaps you’re beginning to wonder if your investment will ever pay off.
Don’t despair. Plenty of entrepreneurs in the online learning business were once in your shoes and are now seeing their revenues soar. They’re getting glowing reviews and lots of repeat business because they took a long, hard look at their courses, got some expert advice, and optimized their courses accordingly.
This article will help you recognize ways in which your online courses can be improved so that customers count them among their best learning experiences ever!
“Fix It Flag” #1: Your Course Doesn’t Promise a Specific Result
A great online course is built around specific objectives that describe what learners will be able to do after completing it. Most adults sign up for a course because they believe it will help them solve a problem or do something they couldn’t do before. But they aren’t willing to wade through a ton of irrelevant information to get to what they want and need to know.
It’s not about what you know and want to teach. It’s about what your customers don’t know and want to learn.
Before you even set out to create a new course, you should have a clear idea of what customer pain points it will address, what problems it will solve, and how long it should take to see results.
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Once you know that, it’s easy enough to reverse-design your way into a course that gets learners from whatever their current level of knowledge is to what it needs to be without digression.
And be sure to title and market your course in a way that makes it very clear what customers will be able to do at the end of the course. “How to Master Yoga Headstands in 30 Days” will bring in a lot more customers than “Yoga for Beginners.”
“Fix It Flag” #2: Your Course Is Too Big and Too Broad
It goes without saying that quality trumps quantity. Many online course creators think that the more they cram into a course, the more value it will have for customers. But those folks have it all wrong.
Yes, the knowledge you have to share may be valuable, but so is a customer’s time.
Few online learners are willing to devote more than 15-20 minutes at a time to a course, especially if they’re accessing courses on a mobile device. They’re looking for courses they can consume in bite-sized chunks while commuting, during their lunch break, or in the bathtub!
A course that is a mile wide and an inch deep rarely satisfies anyone.
This is why it’s so important to define course objectives from the very beginning of the design process. Do you think that it makes sense to include the history of yoga, it's grounding in Ayurveda and eastern philosophy, and a couple of dozen poses before you get to what you promised customers your course would teach them—how to master a yoga headstand?
What’s the solution? “Go deep, not wide.” Divide each course into smaller modules, each one designed to produce a specific outcome. Focus on one topic, or one “big idea” in each, and teach that one as thoroughly as you can in a reasonable amount of time.
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“Fix It Flag” #3: Your Course Lacks a Strategic Structure
The biggest mistake many entrepreneurs in the online education industry make is structuring their courses around information rather than around actions. Too much information without a clear structure is confusing and overwhelming for learners.
What are the specific actions a learner needs to take in order to accomplish the outcome your course promises? And what do they need to know to perform those actions?
The answers to those two questions give you the blueprint for your course. The actions become your modules, and the information needed to perform those actions become the content of the respective modules.
Every module should include at least one opportunity to apply what has been learned … an exercise, activity, quiz, or evaluation of some sort. Being able to see results will keep customers coming back to learn more and continue growing.
Read more: Keep Students Coming Back For More
When creating courses for our clients, we structure them as sequential modules to be completed one at a time over a while, at the learner’s desired pace. But they work just as well for people who like to “binge learn” and complete them all in one day. This kind of flexibility has been found to boost completion rates.
“Fix It Flag” #4: Your Course Isn’t Aligned with How Adults Learn
Surprisingly, many online course creators don’t take advantage of what is known about the way adults learn. If you ground your courses in adult learning principles, you won’t have any trouble keeping your customers interested, engaged, and determined to complete them.
Over the past 50 years of so, adult learning has been the subject of much research. The technical name for the study of adult learning is “andragogy.” Malcolm Knowles (1913-1997) was a pioneer in the field of andragogy.
The adult learning principles he identified include:
- Adults are internally motivated and self-directed.
- Adults bring life experience and knowledge to learning situations.
- Adults are most interested in learning things that are immediately relevant to their job or personal life.
- Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-centered.
- Adults are goal-oriented.
Online course creators who apply these principles in designing the courses they offer rarely have to worry about any of the “fix-it” flags identified in this article popping up.
The Solution for Your Online Courses
That old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” certainly applies here. It’s far better to design courses based on what is known about adult learning than it is to go back and revamp them after they’ve been on the market for a while.
By then, you’ve already lost out on the initial sales and repeat business you would have gotten from a well-designed course. And your reputation as a provider of online courses may already have taken a hit.
That’s not to say that you can’t get past that and move forward with revamped courses that meet the needs of adult learners and deliver as promised.
But revamping your existing courses isn’t going to give you the success you’re seeking unless you also change the way you create online courses.
From this point on, make it your mission to create courses that:
- Are built around clearly defined objectives that define what learners will be able to do as a result of course completion.
- Are divided into “bite-size chunks” or modules, each of which addresses one big idea and can be completed in 15-20 minutes.
- Are structured around actions rather than information.
- Are grounded in what is known about the way adults learn.
That’s the proven formula for success in providing online learning for adults.